SSD: The Standard Steak Dinner (TM)

Ok, so its not really a trademarked name. At least, I don’t think it is. But believe me, it should be, because a steak dinner just doesn’t get any more tasty, classic, or all around RIGHT than this. And once you’ve tried this, I can almost guarantee you’ll agree with me.

The SSD is the only original meal that we’ve come up with in our almost 4 years of cooking together that we’ve consistently gone back to several times a year, and have never really had to change. Its part recipe, part formula, and all delicious.

The recipe part of it that never, ever changes is my original sherry steak gravy. “Gravy” is a bit of a misnomer here; there is very little about this recipe that resembles your standard brown, smooth, thick sauce that is usually served with roast beef or turkey. Instead, it is coarse and rustic with diced onion, garlic, mushrooms, and a goodly amount of bacon, with the gravy part being more of binder than anything else. It is sweet, savory, and peppery, a perfect companion for a thick, medium-rare steak, and I’ve barely changed the recipe since I made it the first time nearly 3 years ago.

The rest of the meal is just a simple formula, wherein the components follow a theme but are easily substituted and adjusted to achieve the same general result without getting old or tired. This formula is incredibly classic: a good cut of steak, simply seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper; a green vegetable; a potato dish. But I’m a big believer in the philosophy that if a thing ain’t broke, you shouldn’t try to fix it.

The beauty of it is the wide range of options available for each component. You could use a sirloin steak, or a ribe eye (as we did here) or even a filet. You could sautee up some broccoli or spinach or steam some snow peas, any of which could follow your particular favorite side dish recipe. And we all know how versatile potatoes are. Want a mash? Go for it. Scalloped potatoes your thing? We’ve done that too. Baked and stuffed? Roasted? Hashed? They all work. There’s really just no way to break this meal.

But the sherry gravy is what ties everything together, each and every time. And we have never made this meal without feeling completely and utterly satisfied when our plates are clean.

We made an SSD earlier this week, upon realizing that it’d been several months since we last did so. This time around we used some well-marbled rib eyes for the steak, and combined the potato and green veg by roasting some cubed red potatoes and halved brussels sprouts together. And incidentally, if you think you don’t like brussels sprouts, I absolutely recommend that you try them this way. I first discovered them last fall, having never actually tried them before and therefor being devoid of any of the normal negative connotations that most people have. And at first taste, I loved them. Slightly sweet and tender-crisp when cooked correctly, I often find myself craving them when the weather gets cool. And when they are roasted this way, their natural sugars concentrate and caramelize on the outside, much the way carrots or sweet potatoes do, and they become positively candy-like. Seriously, just try these. They aren’t your parents’ sprouts.

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Eri’s Sherry Steak “Gravy”

I have always used white button mushrooms in this recipe, because I like their texture and mild flavor. However, I recommend that you use whatever variety of mushroom that you prefer – I am sure it would be equally good with portobellos, creminis, or shiitakes. I’d even like to try this with porcinis… sometime when I don’t mind potentially breaking a recipe that has been so completely foolproof for so long.

This recipe makes enough “gravy” to top two average-sized steaks.

1 tsp olive oil
1/2 a white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices fatty bacon, chopped
1/2 cup diced white button mushrooms
1 tsp black pepper (Believe it or not, I use preground pepper for this because the first time I made it, we didn’t have a pepper grinder, and I haven’t wanted to change the finished product. Feel free to fresh-grind your pepper, though I might suggest cutting back a bit as fresh-ground pepper is significantly stronger.)
1/2 cup strong beef stock (and I mean STRONG. I’ve always made this with beef stock cubes, using twice as much as the package directs for the amount of water. You could also use a demi glace, or homemade stock that you boil down to half-volume.)
1/4 cup sherry (the real stuff. Don’t go using “cooking wine” in this recipe.)
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a small sautee pan (not nostick) over medium heat until gently shimmering. Add the bacon and cook slowly to render out as much of the bacon fat as possible into the pan. When the bacon is about half cooked, add in the onions, garlic, and mushrooms, and sautee until everything is softened and the onions are translucent.

Crank up the heat to high for a few minutes to achieve some slight caramelization on the veg and develop a bit of fond (stuck on brown bits) on the bottom of the pan. Deglaze the pan with the sherry, then add the stock, worcestershire, pepper and brown sugar. Turn the heat down again to medium-low and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly and about half the liquid has boiled away. At this point, if you like a thinner gravy, you could use the gravy as-is. Or, you could thicken it by placing the cornstarch in a bowl, adding a couple spoonfuls of water or gravy liquid and stirring to dissolve, then adding the mixture back to the pan and stirring to combine. This will create a thick, velvety sauce to bind all the ingredients together.

Spoon the gravy over your choice of steak and serve hot.

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Roasted Red Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

This was the first time I’ve successfully achieved the crisp outside, fluffy inside roasted potatoes that most people dream about. I think that the pre-cooking step, the generous amount of olive oil, and the high heat in the oven were what make it work, and for once they were totally perfect. I didn’t measure anything or keep track of time while I was doing this, however, so I’m making some guesses here. I will be retrying this method tomorrow when we have some friends over for dinner, so I will try to pay more attention and nail down this recipe.

2-3 large red potatoes, washed and cut into one-inch cubes
1 cup brussels sprouts, stems trimmed, outer leaves removed, and halved
4 cups water
2 tbsp + 1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh-cracked black pepper
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp good balsamic vinegar

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Pour the water into a saucepan and add the 2tbsp salt and cubed potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are about half-cooked, probably about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the olive oil, 1 tbsp salt, black pepper and garlic in a medium-sized bowl.

When the potatoes have reached the desired level of doneness, remove with a slotted spoon to the baking sheet and allow to dry and cool slightly for 2-3 minutes.
Add the trimmed and halved brussels sprouts to the pan of boiling water to blanch for 2-3 minutes, or until bright green and slightly softened.

Once the sprouts are in the water, pour half of the seasoned olive oil over the potatoes on the baking sheet and toss with your hands until the potatoes are covered, then place the sheet in the oven. They will need at least 10-15 minutes on their own before you add the brussels sprouts.

Drain the blanched sprouts and add, while still hot, to the bowl with the remaining seasoned olive oil. Add the balsamic vinegar and toss gently to coat.

Remove the pan with the potatoes from the oven and flip gently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula – you’ll notice that the parts touching the baking sheet will be the most golden browned and crispy. You’ll want to flip them like this over the course of their cooking time to ensure that all sides get evenly browned.

Add the brussels sprouts with their marinade to the baking sheet and spread out so that all the sprouts and potatoes are in a single layer. Return to the oven and continue to bake, turning every 5 minutes or so, until everything is nicely browned and crispy on the outside. For me, this took approximately 15-20 minutes. When they are done, remove from the oven and hit with a last sprinkle of kosher salt and black pepper while they are hot. Serve immediately so that they retain their crispness.

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